Berg sisters push each other to gold at Special Olympics

Saturday, May 31, 2014 | 10:09 p.m. CDT; updated 10:42 a.m. CDT, Monday, June 2, 2014
ShyAnn Berg, 9, and Skyler Berg, 11, wear their gold medals from swimming events in the Special Olympics Missouri State Summer Games at the Mizzou Student Recreation Complex on Saturday.

COLUMBIA — A little encouragement from her sister led 9-year-old swimmer ShyAnn Berg to some serious hardware at the Special Olympics Missouri State Summer Games.

ShyAnn captured three gold medals Saturday at the Mizzou Student Recreation Complex. But before she could get in the pool, she first had to overcome her fear.

She admitted she “got scared” when she first started swimming. But her 11-year-old sister Skyler told her to get over it.

"At the beginning of this year, we had to fight to get ShyAnn in the pool," her father, Josh Berg, said.

With hour-long practices every Friday and swimming lessons on some Wednesdays, ShyAnn began to swim confidently. Then, in April, she competed in her first swim meet in St. Louis. 

"I was in tears because she swam the whole thing and didn't stop," her mother, Christine Berg, said.

The Berg sisters were born with Asperger's syndrome, which is considered an autism spectrum disorder that can cause children and adults to have difficulty with social interactions and even cause fine motor skill weaknesses in grasping objects, writing and other functions that involve the small muscles of the body.  

Josh and Christine said they believe competing in Special Olympics has been a great help.

"Being specia needs, they don't have a lot of options (to compete)," Josh said. "(Special Olympics gives) them these options to compete, and they love it."

Although this was the first Special Olympics for the Berg sisters, there were no rookie jitters. ShyAnn captured the gold medal in every event she entered — the girls' 10-meter assisted swim, 15-meter flotation race and the 15-meter walk.

"I'm so proud of her," Skyler said.

Her coaches said ShyAnn did so well that she might move up to 25-meter events next year.

Skyler also made a bold statement at her Special Olympics debut and won two gold medals and a bronze. She competed in the girls’ 50-meter backstroke, 50-meter breaststroke and the 50-meter freestyle races.

"When you get gold, you feel good about yourself," she said.

You might even get hungry.

"I think I deserve some ice cream," ShyAnn said.

"And she will get that ice cream," her mother said. "I guarantee that."'

This story was written by one of 11 students participating in the Sports Journalism Institute, hosted by MU. This is the 22nd class for the Institute, designed to provide minority and female students with a start in the sports journalism industry. This is SJI's third year at Missouri.

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